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Behind the Scenes of Leadership

Now that we are officially in the second half of 2010 – perhaps between a period of planning and reflection – it’s a good time to talk about leadership, accomplishments and sustaining a high level of performance. We all have notions of the big contributions that high-profile leaders make. But these are not the only moments that make a business or any other group successful. Instead, it often is the sum of small but significant decisions leaders make away from the limelight.



Joseph Badracco, author of the New York Times Bestseller, Leading Quietly: An Unorthodox Guide to Doing the Right Thing, refers to the people who excel in this form of leadership as “quiet leaders.” They choose to be responsible and exercise behind-the-scenes action to resolve tough leadership challenges. According to Badracco, there are three significant traits quiet leaders posses:


1.   They see the world through a wide-angle lens:

o   Understand they don’t know everything

o   Expect to be surprised

o   Assume a host of mixed outcomes when working with people

2.   Their motives are mixed

o   Company objectives must be balanced by a personal investment to encourage frequent and effective action

3.   They are concerned with political capital

o   Weigh the risk and reward of acting

Another important aspect of behind-the-scenes leadership – because leaders in larger organizations cannot make all of the decisions – is getting the right people on board and making distinctions among team members. According to Barbara Kellerman,a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, leaders should determine and appreciate how their team members are different from one another in terms of the decisions they make.

She segments them into five types:

1.   Diehards – So engaged they're willing to go down with the ship

2.   Activists – Very much engaged, heavily invested in people and process and eager to demonstrate their support or opposition

3.   Participants – Engaged enough to invest their own time and money to make an impact

4.   Bystanders – Free riders who are somewhat detached, depending on their self-interests

5.   Isolates– Completely detached, they passively support the status quo with their inaction

The goal of this segmentation exercise is to make employment decisions and provide the right mix of direction and latitude, moving Participants up to Activists and so on.

Advancing employees up this type of ladder requires an environment that drives performance and enables employees to be leaders themselves. The Hay Group, in association with the Harvard Business Review suggests these tips for developing great leaders:

o   Make leadership a top priority

o   Encourage entrepreneurial creativity and experimentation

o   Reward them with opportunities for advancement

o   Create a modern, learning-oriented, fun environment

Together, taking on the daily challenges of “quiet leadership” and working to identify the current and potential leaders to share the leadership burden will deliver results - the hallmark of any proven leader. This approach also has important side effect, however, of reducing stress and the chance of burnout.An affliction that can happen to anyone in any profession or at any level, burnout costs American business an estimated $300 billion a year. According to Steven Berglas, member of Harvard Medical School's Department of Psychiatry and director of Executive Development Resource, the top two strategies of avoiding burnout, are:

1.   Constantly diversify your skills and focus

2.   Teach future leaders and develop your succession plan

These recommendations align directly with the idea of lead quietly and developing internal leaders put forth by Badracco and Kellerman. So stay fresh and open-minded. Lead consistently while constantly coaching your staff. Beyond building long-term results for your organization, these steps will add to your own success and longevity.


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